"A real, profound sense of shared grief" is what led members of Prince's band The Revolution to reunite for a tour this spring, after paying tribute to their late boss last year at Minneapolis' First Avenue.
"We're compelled to kind of put our feet in the water and see whether or not we can find some kind of place for this grief to land," guitarist Wendy Melvoin tells Billboard ahead of the April 21 start of the Revolution's tour at Paisley Park, which will be followed by 25 more shows and a promise of more to be announced. "We're going to take it to different areas and see if we can let the fans have a place to kind of taste a little bit of him. We're not attempting to try to go out there and replace him or mimic or anything. We're just gonna go out there and see if we can give taste of what was, and hopefully the fans are gonna go 'Thanks,' and it'll help us, too."
The Revolution was Prince's band from 1979 -- with keyboardist Matt Fink and drummer Bobby Z -- through 1987's Sign O' The Times, though it wasn't credited under that name until 1984's Purple Rain album. Bassist Brown Mark, keyboardist Lisa Coleman and Melvoin, who joined for Purple Rain, round out the lineup, which will only play material from the Revolution era, including "a bunch of unreleased stuff that the fans know," according to Melvoin.
"To me that era for him was such a culmination of everything he wanted to be," she says. "He made no apologies and he wasn't fighting as hard to prove himself. What we gave to him was his freedom, a true, safe environment to really explore every part of himself. None of us were the virtuosos that he had towards the end of his life who could play circles around any of us, like 5,000 notes in 10 seconds. We were the musicians that would play one note and one note well. We became the freight train, which makes for a better band, and he could feel safe knowing we were happy to give him exactly what he wanted from each of us."
Pushed by Bobby Z, the Revolution's three First Avenue shows were a catharsis for the musicians as well as the fans. "The first night it was so sad. There was a lot of beautiful energy and it was high contrast for sure, all fantastic and all horrible swimming at the same time," Melvoin recalls. "By night three we were smiling from beginning to end, and when we walked off stage the five of us went into a back room, and I remember Bobby just broke down and started to cry. We all sort of had this moment where it felt like this was almost too much. But at the same time we made people smile and they felt good and they got to grab onto at least the legacy of him so that his death didn't feel so permanent."
Melvoin holds out the possibility of guests joining the Revolution at some of the dates on the tour. "If someone wants to come up that's a great artist that (Prince) would have loved, well, come up Bilal and do 'Darling Nikki.' D'Angelo, you want to sing 'She's Always In My Hair?' Come on up!" Melvoin says. Meanwhile, the Revolution is keeping the possibility of new music at arm's length for the time being.
"We keep talking about that, but it seems too far away," Melvoin says. "We're just going to go out and do these gigs and see how people respond. I mean, Lisa and I can write for days, but we're not, like, pop artists. We've been really avant-garde, off-the-grid musicians for years now and spend most of our time making music for film and TV. To do a pop record with the Revolution...we have to figure out whether that would work and if people would want it. So for now we're just gonna go out and play and see how people feel about it."